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In the 50 years since the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund was established, it has been fully funded just once. The Outdoor Industry Association is now calling on Congress to reauthorize the fund and invest a full $900 million toward its mission of providing recreational access and acquiring land for conservation.
"The reason the fund is so important is it has funded 40,000 parks and projects around the country. It is a fund that doubles its investments because the states match them. There isn't a county that hasn't benefited," said OIA president Frank Hugelmeyer Wednesday during the opening day of the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in Salt Lake City.
The OIA is a Colorado-based trade group serving 4,000 businesses that equip people for skiing, cycling, paddling, climbing, camping, hiking and various other outdoor activities powered by muscles and gravity that fuel a $646 billion industry.
Hugelmeyer's right arm was fully encased in a blue cast as a blown-out bicep healed from a boat-handling mishap, a reminder that his industry supports the kind of fun that carries a degree of risk. But these are sports that are light on the landscape and come with plenty of health benefits for the vast majority whose accidents don't result in disabling injuries.
The OIA has long referred to public lands as the nation's "infrastructure" for outdoor recreation and has been at odds with Utah's political leaders over their drive to transfer 30 million federal acres to the state.
The tension between recreation and energy is particularly acute in Utah, which harbors equally robust measures of mineral resources and scenic landscapes the mountains, rivers, canyons and desert that are ideal venues for outdoor adventure.
Recreation supports $12 billion in economic activity in the Beehive State, far more than the value of minerals it produces, according to OIA research. The industry employs 122,000 people, who received $3.6 billion in wages, and the industry contributes $856 million in state and local taxes. The outdoor industry's impact is greater than the value of all minerals extracted in Utah, which slipped to $8.2 billion in 2012.
Yet, outdoor business leaders have felt their interests in Utah take a back seat to those of the oil and gas industry. Two years ago, complaining the state doesn't take their interests seriously, the OIA and member businesses called for the designation of a national monument on the public lands surrounding Canyonlands National Park, a move many Utah politicians strongly oppose. Last week, 14 U.S. senators none from Utah made a similar request to President Barack Obama, who has the authority to establish national monuments under the 1906 Antiquities Act. Many Utahns, still angry over the 1996 designation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, oppose any new monuments.
OIA's announcement Wednesday supporting the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is far less confrontational. Some 85 businesses have so far signed a letter, which will be submitted to Congress on Sept. 3, the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson's signature on the enabling legislation.
The law reserves a share of federal offshore oil and gas royalties for conservation, but a majority of the eligible revenue more than $17 billion has been diverted for other purposes. Still, the fund has accomplished much, helping acquire the lands that now make up the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Grand Teton National Park.
"Full and dedicated funding for LWCF will enable communities across the nation to continue to invest in the outdoor economy, creating local jobs. "The outdoor industry, and the 140 million Americans who participate in outdoor recreation each year, depend on LWCF for a healthy environment, a healthy high quality of life and access to outdoor recreation," said Roger Spatz, president of pack maker Eagle Creek.
In Utah, the fund has been tapped to help build the Bonneville Shoreline Trail that hugs the Wasatch foothills along Davis and Salt Lake counties and buy national park inholdings.
"When you have a more urbanized America, this is the critical funding mechanism to increase infrastructure close to where people live," Hugelmeyer said.